ISLAMABAD — A second massive bombing has rocked Afghanistan this week, killing at least 50 people and deepening concerns that in the aftermath of the Taliban takeover, other militant groups are growing in strength in the country.
The attack Friday by multiple suicide bombers hit a Shiite mosque in the southern city of Kandahar during midday prayers. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a Kunduz attack last Friday, although no group claimed responsibility.
Taliban police commander Abdul Ghafar Mohammadi said the blasts killed more than 50 and wounded at least 100, and he said he expected the toll to rise as health workers recovered more bodies.
Many “dead bodies remain under the ruined mosque,” Hafiz Abdul Hai Abbas, health director for the province, told The Washington Post earlier in the day.
Many fear recent attacks demonstrate that the Taliban — which took over Afghanistan two months ago — is unable to curb other militant and terrorist groups, especially in urban areas. Al-Qaeda, as well as the Islamic State, are still active in Afghanistan. If they gain power in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, it could become an attractive place for terrorists who want to launch international attacks.
Last Friday’s suicide bombing in Kunduz was claimed by the Islamic State’s Afghanistan branch. The blast struck a crowded Shiite mosque during Friday prayers, killing nearly 50 worshipers and wounding dozens more. Sunni extremist Islamic State views Shiite Muslims as heretics, and targets places of worship.
The Islamic State also claimed responsibility for an attack Thursday that killed a Taliban police chief in the eastern province of Konar, according to local media reports.
The Taliban’s ability to maintain tight security in territory under its control has been a core source of its popularity. The movement now has complete control over the country and is being pressured to provide similar protections across the nation. Taliban leaders condemned Friday’s attack and directed the fighters of the movement to be arrested.
Eyewitnesses told The Post that they heard multiple explosions from the mosque.
“First, I heard gunfire and then explosions followed,” said Abdul Jabar Karimi, 40, who was near the blasts. “Blood was everywhere.”
Meanwhile, Murtaza Khaledi, 26, said he saw as many as four suicide bombers — two who detonated their bombs near the mosque’s entrance, and two who set off their bombs inside the building.
“Everyone is shocked. Khaledi stated that Shiites from Kandahar had never been attacked.
Footage from inside the mosque showed several bloodied bodies on the floor, some covered in sheets, while onlookers wailed. According to Taliban, it sent elite troops to inspect the area.
But Kandahar is not a part of the country that has seen significant Islamic State activity previously. This province, which is considered the Taliban’s historical heartland and has a large rural population who have supported them in the past, has great symbolic significance.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan also condemned the attack on what it said was Kandahar’s largest Shiite mosque. The U.N. statement put the number of dead at 30.
“Those responsible need to be held to account,” the mission tweeted.
Cheung reported from London. This report was contributed by Mohammadullah Aryen, Kabul.